Offensive linemen don’t catch touchdown passes or get sacks on the quarterback, so they largely go unrecognized. However, every NFL coach will tell you that the success of a good team comes down to the trenches on both sides of the ball. Today, we are going to thoroughly break down the Raiders offensive line Week 2 performance. The line has many people scratching their heads after two weeks of football. But is it really that bad?
The Bad and the Ugly
The Raiders rushing attack after two weeks is the worst in the NFL, averaging just 2.9 yards per attempt and tied for the second least amount of total rushing yards. That is primarily due to the offensive line and the struggles of the players. Some would also argue the Raiders played two of the best defenses in the NFL. After all, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens both ranked top three in points allowed last year.
Nevertheless, the Raiders line is struggling. Part of what makes an offensive line unit succeed is the familiarity with one another. At the moment, the Raiders just don’t have that.
Richie Incognito was the starter all of camp, and come Week 1, it was John Simpson who ended up starting at left guard. RG Denzelle Good, the Raiders’ most consistent player from last year, tore his ACL in Week 1. He’s now out for the season and has been replaced by Jermaine Eluemunor. C Andre James and RT Alex Leatherwood are both new as well, and Leatherwood got hurt in Week 2 and was replaced by Brandon Parker.
This offensive line just can’t stay healthy at the moment, and it’s really hurting their familiarity with one another and impacting their success. Those issues were apparent for the offensive line in Week 2.
Take this first play from the Raiders vs. Steelers matchup. The Raiders call a power run to the strong side out of the pistol formation. The down and distance is 3rd and 2. The difference between a successful play and a failed play can’t be underestimated. You either continue the drive or punt the football.
As the ball gets snapped, every player blocks down (or to their inside). John Simpson is the lone player who doesn’t do that. Instead he is pulling to kick out T.J. Watt, who goes unblocked. It is clear Simpson needs to kick out Watt. Instead, Simpson cuts his block upfield, missing Watt, who blows the play up:
Had Simpson successfully made this block, the RB is picking up at least 4 yards, including the first down.
This play is a prime example of putting a player in the game when he’s not ready. Don’t get me wrong, John Simpson has done a ton of really good things, but he’s also not Richie Incognito. If the Raiders had the veteran guard in the offensive line lineup in Week 2, would he have missed this block against the Steelers?
These types of plays have a direct impact on the Raiders as they then punted the football after failing to convert for the first down.
The last play was an example of John Simpson not seeing the proper block. I am okay with this. It happens and is a learning lesson. However, there are other plays, like the one below, where Simpson gets beat at the point of attack:
John Simpson is taking on All-Pro Cameron Heyward, but he has to be able to get to the left of Heyward and hook the DT. In the play, Heyward punches Simpson in his chest plates and gets him off-balance before blowing the play up.
It wasn’t just John Simpson who had losing reps. Alex Leatherwood had some bad reps, as did Andre James. We will hold off on the James bad reps for a separate article I’ll be doing in a few weeks, but let’s get into Leatherwood’s film.
Alex Leatherwood did not play the entire game. He played on 31 snaps in the first half and Brandon Parker took over in the second half as Leatherwood had a back injury. Before he was ruled out of the game, Leatherwood was really struggling.
On the second drive of the game, T.J. Watt beat Leatherwood and stripped Derek Carr of the football:
Watt speed-rushes upfield bends down and rips past Leatherwood before getting to Derek Carr.
The Raiders RT has to be able to get out of his stance quicker. He has to get vertical and anchor down. Watt is one of the best edge players in the game, so Leatherwood losing to him isn’t surprising. However, the sack wasn’t the only losing play by Leatherwood.
The RT lost a second time to Watt, but Carr was able to get the ball out quick:
On this second play that Watt beats Leatherwood, Watt does a nice job with his cross chop technique. He starts off with a speed rush, chops Leatherwood’s punch with his right hand, and pins Leatherwood’s right arm with his left arm, before pulling Leatherwood from his right shoulder pad and getting the RT off balance. If you blink, you’ll miss it. (Feel free to watch it at .25x speed)
Write the second loss off as a rookie playing against one of the league’s best edge players. Leatherwood will only get better with more reps.
It’s bad enough if the Raiders offensive line is missing blocks, but it’s a whole different scenario when the running backs are missing cut-back lanes.
RB Josh Jacobs not playing against the Steelers is the key contributor to the Raiders not being successful when running the football. Once he is back, I expect the Raiders rushing attack to pick back up.
Now that we’ve got the bad out of the way, let’s circle back and break down some positive plays. The Raiders offensive line is getting much more criticism than they deserve. Derek Carr is leading the NFL in passing yards, so something is clearly working along the offensive line to allow him to pass the ball. That’s where we’ll start.
LT Kolton Miller has started off strong in pass protection. He has pass blocked 107 total snaps, and he has yet to give up any sacks in those snaps. He is ranked as the second-best pass blocker in the NFL according to PFF.
Miller sets up in a vertical set. He is getting deep into his set and anchors down. He has been the Raiders most consistent offensive lineman so far this year, and it showed in Week 2.
Besides Miller, RG Jermaine Eluemunor might be the MVP of the offensive line, especially in pass blocking. The Steelers really went at him, running twist games to his side. Eluemunor picked up and passed off everything with ease.
Let’s take a look at two plays:
Defensive coaches run stunts to get pressure on quarterbacks. It’s a good way to confuse offensive linemen and generate pressure without blitzing. The offensive line had success protecting against stunts in Week 2.
In the play above, Eluemunor pushes and passes off All-Pro Cameron Heyward to RT Brandon Parker. He then gets his head and body in position to take on Melvin Ingram, who is coming around Heyward. This DL game doesn’t work, and Derek Carr is kept clean and able to deliver the ball downfield.
Lets look at the next play:
Jermaine Eluemunor does a great job once again with the DL/LB game. But this time, the LB steps out into coverage instead of coming in pass rush. If he came, the Raiders RG was ready.
Something To Watch
The Raiders primarily utilize the zone blocking scheme when running the football. However, their most success came when they use the power running scheme.
To ice the game in the fourth quarter, the Raiders ran a few power runs, including this one:
It’ll be interesting to see, with all the changes to the offensive line, if the Raiders favor a power run scheme or zone run scheme against the Miami Dolphins.
Offensive Line Grades through Week 2
|Player||Snaps||Sacks + Hits||Overall Grade|
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